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VOL. 131 | NO. 23 | Tuesday, February 2, 2016

New Superintendent Says ASD Not Monolithic

By Bill Dries

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The superintendent of the state-run Achievement School District says critics of the district for the state’s lowest-performing schools don’t understand that the organization doesn’t operation conventionally.

“We are treated like and talked about as though we are one monolithic organization,” Malika Anderson said on the WKNO-TV program “Behind The Headlines.” “The ASD is an organization that approves independent nonprofit local operators to serve schools. We should be talking about the ASD as a portfolio of networks of schools. And how those networks of schools are doing should be at the forefront of these conversations.”

“We are treated like and talked about as though we are one monolithic organization.”

–Malika Anderson
Achievement School District

And Anderson said critics underestimate the pressure its presence has put on leaders of schools outside its jurisdiction to improve student achievement in failing schools that are not in the ASD.

“We do that through direct intervention in the schools that we serve and through partnership and some external pressure for local school districts to turn their schools around that are on the priority list,” she said.

“Behind The Headlines,” hosted by The Daily News publisher Eric Barnes, can be seen on The Daily News Video page, video.memphisdailynews.com.

Anderson had been chief portfolio officer, No. 2 to the superintendent, of the ASD portfolio since its creation in 2012 by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. She became superintendent this month, succeeding founding superintendent Chris Barbic.

As Barbic exited and Anderson began the transition, criticism has grown more vocal with the Black Caucus of Tennessee legislators calling for a freeze on ASD takeovers. State Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis has filed a bill to abolish the entity entirely.

The critics became more vocal when a Vanderbilt University study earlier this year, which compared ASD to Innovation Zone schools through three academic years, found I-Zone schools performed better.

The study also concluded that three school years’ worth of results are not enough to judge the long-term success of either set.

Anderson points out that caveat and says both sets of schools showed growth in student achievement.

She also acknowledged there should be discussions about the movement of per-pupil state funding to the ASD at just under $9,000 per student and what the loss of that funding means to conventional systems, particularly their fixed costs.

“It takes money to support the students that we are serving,” Anderson said. “If the system is considered the students – then no, it doesn’t take money out of the system because the money follows the kids. … In terms of taking money from an administrative system that provides oversight for those schools – yes, it does take funds from the local district and there are some changes that will need to be made on the district level. That takes time.”

Barbic’s response to criticism at the individual school level was to note that many of the critics were teachers or community leaders who had either moved out of the neighborhoods zoned to the school or no longer had children there.

Barbic made a distinction between those criticisms and questions from parents of children currently enrolled.

Anderson referred to “how engrained some of the systemic forces are that are creating the conditions for failure, not just in schools that are in the Achievement School District, but schools that are on the priority list in Memphis and across the state.”

The “priority list” is the state’s term for the list of the bottom 5 percent of schools in the state in terms of student achievement.

The ASD also is working to change what Anderson acknowledges was a presumption by some of the charter operators that their success in other states was immediately transferrable to Memphis, where the charters have attendance zones.

“I think there was a presumption that some of the successes that our operators have experienced in other parts of the country and in Tennessee … in open enrollment charters, could more easily be transferred into turnaround schools than they have been,” she said. “We are now clear about what the underlying support and challenges are that we need to address to make it easier for operators to be able to translate the success in that environment to the success of turnaround schools.”

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